I think one of the largest misconceptions people have about long term travel is that it is basically an extended vacation. I get it - I had this misconception before I went on my first backpacking trip. However, 3 weeks into my trip I woke up in my hostel in Belgium and realized... this is no trip, this is just my life at the moment.
The sightseeing, exploring and adventuring is a lot like vacation,but the budgeting and saving is not. Easily, the hardest part about sticking to your budget while backpacking is that temptation is everywhere. Restaurants, bars, pub crawls, gifts, excurions... I could write this list all day.
I wrote a post on how to pick a budget for your trip - that is the first step. If you have your budget, that is great! Your first step is complete. Now, how do you stick to this budget while also trying to make the most of your trip?
Well, it ain't easy. Below is a list of 15 tips that helped gain control of my spending while traveling.....
15 TIPS FOR STICKING TO YOUR BUDGET WHILE TRAVELING....
1. PICK AN AMOUNT... AND STICK TO IT
Once your daily number has been determined, be strict with yourself. If you can't manage to stay under you daily spending cap, your trip is doomed. Sticking to a budget may mean making hard choices (like leaving the bar after one drink). That being said, if there is something you really want to do and you have already spent your daily budget....
2. MAKE UP FOR GOING OVER BUDGET
No one is perfect when it comes to staying under budget while traveling - new and exciting temptations are too frequent. I remember Jane and I dumping our coin purses onto a bar in Belgium, counting our coins to see if we could afford another drink... and then remembering we had our debit cards and purchasing more beer (because, culture).
When you overspend one day, underspend that amount the next. Ta da! You are back on track. It is that simple. Don't let this become a habit (or you will build up a large personal debt). Watch me day-by-day budget my Southeast Asia backpacking trip here!
However, if your budget constraints consistently don't appear to be working, don't be afraid to.....
3. REWORK YOUR SYSTEM
If you're consistently going over (or under) budget, don't be afraid to rework your system. See what you can cut out to spend money elsewhere. Perhaps even cut your entire trip short to enjoy yourself more while you are there. Be aware of your habits.
4. USE YOUR FEET
When you are only spending $50 (or whatever) a day, costs that appear inconsequential add up fast. Metro, buses, trains, and especially cabs, build up quite a tab. Assuming you are physically able to, walk everywhere. Even if it takes an hour or two to get somewhere, what else do you have to do? Plus, it is the best way to see the city. Isn't that the point of visiting? You'll be surprised how short a 45 minute walk feels in a new and bustling city. Allow transit systems to be a treat (lol....).
5. CARRY CASH
For sticking to a budget, this is my number one tip. Find a card that doesn't have ATM fees, and withdraw your daily budget every morning.
When you physically don't have the money, you can't go over budget. Plus there is something about holding the money that makes you smarter about spending it. Spending cash over using a card is a habit I practice outside of travel to stay on budget.
6. FIND LITTLE INDULGENCES
Jane and I would split a bar of chocolate every couple of days and treat ourselves to a piece when we felt sluggish. This was a little indulgence that didn't cost much, but made us feel spoiled and happy. Find indulgences that you can afford that make you happy.
7. BUY GROCERIES
Eating out is a large part of travel, and very important when getting to know a new culture - I will never deny that. That being said, if your hostel has a kitchen, cooking for yourself will save you a lot a money. As with most areas of life, balance is key. When you buy groceries for 4 days, you can split their cost over the days you are using them. This can save you a lot of money, especially for breakfast and lunch.
8. SHARE GROCERIES WITH FRIENDS
Moreover, even if it is just one meal, splitting the cost of cooking dinner with others saves money. This also allows the opportunity to meet people. Everyone is trying to save money. More often than not, if you suggest cooking a meal together, other people will be interested. You can even learn more about new cultures by asking a fellow traveler from another country about a dish from their country that you can make.
9. DEVELOP HABITS THAT DON'T COST MONEY
One of our favorite things to do while traveling was to find a park and spend a few hours in it. Aside from being beautiful and allowing ample opportunity to observe locals, the best part was that it was FREE. Exploring doesn't have to have a price tag, and it can be the best way to get to know an area/culture.
10. KNOW YOUR PRIORITIES
This speaks for yourself. You're a smarter spender when you know what you want to do or see. If there is something you need to do, but it is a bit expensive, then do it! Save money by passing on something that doesn't mean as much to you, even if everyone else is doing it.
11. DON'T DENY YOURSELF AND SPLURGE WHEN YOU CAN
Tips 10, 11, and 12 go hand in hand (in hand). The point of traveling is to see, learn, and experience new things. If it makes sense to splurge, don't be afraid to do so! There is no point in constantly denying yourself. Going to all these places and never doing anything is crazy.
12. KNOW WHEN YOU ARE GOING TO BE SPENDING A LOT OF MONEY
We knew that hot air ballooning in Cappadocia was going to cost a lot of money, so we figured a way to pay for it before we arrived in Turkey. If we had just shown up in Cappadocia with the remainder of our budget, we may not have been able to do it. Research where your big costs arise and figure out a way to pay for it before you are confronted with the bill.
13. LEAVE DAILY WIGGLE ROOM
Again, related to the past 3 tips, but to be able to splurge occasionally, you need wiggle room in your budget. This is especially applicable because splurging doesn't always mean a present. Maybe you get sick and need expensive medicine. Maybe you broke your shoes and need to buy a new pair. Maybe the weather is colder than you expected and you need a jacket.
If your budget just includes food and lodging costs, you are not giving yourself enough wiggle room for other purchases. Budget five or ten extra dollars every day that you don't need. This money will add up and pay for a big purchases down the road.
14. KEEP TRACK OF BORROWED MONEY
If you are traveling with another person, it doesn't always make sense to pay separately. For the most part, everything really does even out in the wash. That being said, it makes sense to "balance the books" every couple of days. Keep track of every time one person pays for another - small purchases add up and it is the only fair way. Compare the lists every couple of days and pay any difference in lending between each other. Venmo or paypal are great ways to transfer money quickly.
General life comment: Always make an effort to pay people back in good time. Lending money is generous favor, and don't be an unappreciative asshole who doesn't appear to care about other's funds.
15. BUDGET FOR TRAVEL SEPARATELY
This may be the hardest part. Getting from place to place (to place) isn't free. It often costs more than your entire daily budget (see: $200 train tickets in Switzerland). I am still not sure the best way to account for these costs, but I can tell you what I did, and I made it home and to all the places I wanted to go to.
I had a separate amount of money I wanted to spend on "transport costs". I budgeted money out of this lump sum ($1000 dollars). I made this money last by always picking the absolute cheapest way to get somewhere, regardless of how long it took. My advice would be to put aside separate money for transport costs.... and have it be more money than you think you'll need.